New European research has found that commuting to work through a natural environment could help boost mental health, especially if you incorporate some exercise such as cycling or walking.
Led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in the journal Environment International, the new study looked at 3,599 participants from four European cities: Barcelona, Spain, Doetinchem, the Netherlands, Kaunas, Lithuania, and Stoke-on-Trent, UK.
Participants were asked to answer a questionnaire about their commuting habits, including whether they commuted through a natural environment or not and how often, and their mental health.
In the study natural environments were defined as all public and private outdoor spaces that contain ‘green’ and/or ‘blue’ natural elements such as trees or forests, and included both city parks and natural parks and all types of water.
The findings showed that participants who commuted daily through natural environments had on average a 2.74 point higher mental health score compared to those who commuted through natural environments less frequently.
Those who commuted daily through a natural environment were also more likely to be active commuters, who cycled or walked to work. Moreover, the positive association with mental health was even stronger among those who reported active commuting through natural environments.
However, active commuting alone was not associated with improved mental health, and the quality of the natural environment also did not appear to influence the results.
“From previous experimental studies we knew that physical activity in natural environments can reduce stress, improve mood and mental restoration when compared to the equivalent activity in urban environments,” commented Wilma Zijlema, ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study. “Although this study is the first of its kind to our knowledge and, therefore, more research will be needed, our data show that commuting through these natural spaces alone may also have a positive effect on mental health.”